What Becomes You
Claudia Smith

When you tell yourself you are someone else, an intrepid young thing. His Gal Friday. Bright brown hair and cornflower blue eyes. Every morning, you drink lots of water from a blue tank. You are in your thirties by this time, but you have lunch with the ones in their twenties, the boys with lots of keychains and brutal messages glued to their computers, the girls who are still Goth. It's a beautiful, beautiful, insular world, climbing into the thermos and you say when you come home you love it, and this person, this person you are right now, she does. She goes to the malls to see the blurred Christmas lights and smell the gingerbread lotions. She has honey wheat highlights and smells like someone from childhood, one of those girls you wanted to become but didn't, like Breck Shampoo and candied lipgloss. She is, without much trouble, prettier than you are. She is glib. She says all the wrong things and when she says them, people look at her as if they are the right things. She eats dehydrated noodles from the office microwave, and drinks the kind of margaritas that come from a machine, every Wednesday. And she flirts! Oh, she can flirt, without making others blush, flirt in that way that makes men and women feel like the winners inside they are, they can be. There is a winner inside of a loser and a loser inside of every winner. That sounds like something she's read.

There's a crack in the sidewalk in front of her duplex. There are ants outside her window, and they climb in at night and they bite. And she's never noticed it before, how life can be cleaner when you notice the antbites, how the smell of an air conditioned house is dry and high and better when you spray lavender on your pillows. I am not a joke, you type over and over again on your computer screen. Oh, her screen saver is a landscape of the mountains in New Zealand. You used to look better naked, and now you are in your thirties you still look great with all your clothes on, and you aren't taking them off, not ever again.

Of course, you do, you go out another night and drink the pitcher of strawberry frosty margarita whatever and you end up across town, in a mall parking lot with the computer boy who says he can't believe how old you really are, how right you are about every movie and book you tell him to watch, to read. You are in this mall parking lot that overlooks the woods, it is an amazing view, really, and he tells you there is still an old graveyard on the slope of the hill where they've built this mall. He traces the inside of your knee, and you are she. She kisses the top of his head and his hair rough — cut in that brillo- pad way that makes her want to scratch her cheeks against it, a beard on top of a head. His eyelashes are sooty and she kisses the insides of his wrists. I love you, she says, and then you cry. You leave him in there, after, you walk into another bar in the mall, a place where they sell beer and blooming onions, you sing more songs to them and then you cry a lot and tell them about a boy you loved, the baby who died, the boy who left, the baby who died, oh, what stories, and you are you again, which is to say, you are not becoming, you are undone. No really, your buttons are still undone. You aren't going there again. Okay, you're up for karaoke, and oh, what a song she sings. You tell a bunch more stories and try to turn it around, but, wait, these are not your collegues, this is another happy hour, but, honestly, at this point you are nothing but the cold ceramic you'll be against soon and you look at the boy, who is not your boy, who is in the doorway now and for some reason you keep thinking about how a mama bird feeds a baby bird by vomiting into its mouth. You think, that'll do it. That'll chase her away and yes, you will be you.

Claudia Smith's new collection is Put Your Head in My Lap. Her stories have appeared in New Sudden Fiction and elsewhere.

To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200911wby.htm

"What Becomes You" first appeared in Steel City Review, an online journal which is no longer.

Read other CS stories from the archive.

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